As the World Cup nears, authorities in major host cities are rounding up vagrants, street children and prostitutes in a campaign to spruce up the image of urban areas.
As the continent's biggest economy, South Africa's streets are a magnet for immigrant beggars, who see the country as a step out of poverty.
In the last two months, police in Johannesburg swooped on mainly Zimbabwean blind beggars who roam the busy streets and women who sit with babies at road intersections -- much to the anger of rights groups.
"Their presence violates the city bylaws and we arrest them. In many cases those in need, like women with children and disabled people, are referred to places of safety, where they can access welfare services," said Edna Mamonyane, spokeswoman for the Johannesburg Metro Police.
"This is a normal police exercise, but we have intensified our efforts because of the World Cup," said Mamonyane.
"We have had a really tough job with the prostitutes, every day they are warned or arrested," she added.
The campaign has infuriated sex worker groups and street kid advocates, who accuse the police of trampling on the rights of the downtrodden by sending them to poorly serviced facilities.
"It's a violation of our bill of rights... They're not allowed to do it. The legacy that it's going to leave behind is that human rights were violated in the process of trying to put on a world event," said Warren Whitfield, chief of Addiction Action Campaign, an advocacy group.
"The problem is vast. People are being removed from the streets and put into shelters and concentration camps," he said.
Street kids in the coastal city of Durban say that over the last two months police have rounded them up and left them at a facility on the city's outskirts.
"They tell us we must go back where we came from. They say Durban is dirty because of us," a 13-year-old boy told the Times newspaper.